Looking for the best places to see the April 8 solar eclipse in the totality path? You may have to dodge clouds


America is gearing up for the April 8 total solar eclipse, and many are checking maps to find the best location to watch within the path of totality. But those hoping to view the corona and see a fully darkened midday sky might find themselves dodging clouds due to April weather patterns.

The last time a total solar eclipse traversed an elongated path across the continental U.S. — on Aug. 21, 2017 — Americans could be caught gazing at the midday dark from Oregon all the way to South Carolina. Most spots along the path of totality enjoyed reasonably clear, summer skies.

Those living or visiting along the path of totality next week may not end up so fortunate, as historical weather maps show the odds of experiencing a cloud-free sky at this time of year are somewhat less than ideal. In fact, finding a totally clear view at any given time is closer to the exception than the rule.

“According to NASA, at any given time, 70% of the earth is covered in clouds,” said Mike Augustyniak, CBS Minnesota director of meteorology.

Not only is North America in the middle of the volatility of changing seasons during this year’s solar event, but meteorologists note that we’re also currently in an El Niño pattern, albeit one that’s proven quieter than usual.

“An El Niño pattern tends to increase the chances of cloudy, rainy weather in those areas. Interestingly, though, that is not how this winter and spring have played out,” said Augustyniak. “Since the start of 2024, Texas Hill Country and western Texas areas have been markedly drier than average; if that trend holds for the next few weeks, that would be good news for eclipse watchers.”

The path of totality is only about 150 miles wide, and in America stretches roughly 2,500 miles from the Texas border to the last few towns in northeastern Maine. That leaves only so many places where you can seek the full show, though the path’s width will be significantly wider than it was in 2017, according to NASA, as the moon will to be closer to Earth on this pass than it was then.

So will April showers bring spectator flowers? Here’s a breakdown of which places along the path of totality are most likely to give eclipse chasers the best odds.

Viewing the eclipse in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas

Augustyniak said at this transitional time of year, the further south you can go, the more likely you are to experience clear skies during eclipse totality.

“Of the areas where the total eclipse will be visible on April 8, that includes the Hill Country of Texas, and the Mexican states of Coahuila and Durango,” Augustyniak said.

Of course, the further south you get, the more you increase your chances of running into not only clouds, but rain.

“Spring is our storm season of course,” said Jeff Ray, chief meteorologist for CBS Texas.

Ray said that you can almost bet on needing to do a little bit of reverse storm-chasing — in other words, doing some last-minute navigation to dart away from the oncoming clouds, rather than toward them — on or around the eclipse in Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

“There will be storms around the day of April 8. I say that because we rarely get through a week in spring without a couple of rounds coming through the area during this time of the year. Will they arrive a day before and be gone? Not start up until later that day? Maybe two days later? We are looking at our long-range model the GFS for the date and it looks like storms on the eighth,” Ray said, with a caveat. “Long-range models are notoriously inaccurate for a specific day. But there is a good chance the storms the model sees will materialize, give or take a 36-hour period.”

Ray said that Texas sees, on average, a sunny or mostly sunny April day only about 28% of the time. Conversely, the region gets April days with mostly cloudy or fully overcast conditions about 36% of the time.

“High clouds can arrive several days before the storm system, they are overhead in April around 22% of the time. A sky with some kind of cloud cover is likely,” said Ray. “A typical April day would have near overcast skies in the morning, then the heating of the day makes for more sunshine. So an afternoon even has better odds of a good view of the eclipse.”

Eclipse map of totality
NASA’s map shows the path of totality for the April 8, 2024 eclipse.

NASA


The eclipse will reach totality in Texas from about 1:30 p.m. CT near Elm Creek until wrapping up near the Oklahoma border a few minutes before 2 p.m. Some of the most populous areas along the path of totality will be during this leg, from San Antonio and Austin to Dallas-Fort Worth.

One final factor to consider if you’re heading to the area — tornadoes. Ray said that the National Weather Office in Fort Worth has tallied all the confirmed tornadoes since 1880, and in April and May, north Texas has seen more than 1,100 twisters, compared with the nearly 900 seen in all other months.

“So more tornadoes in the 61-day window than all of the other days of the year combined,” Ray said, “but the tornado count varies greatly from year to year.”

Ultimately, Ray said that April is traditionally the third-stormiest month of the year in Texas.

“In short, April is not the best, nor the worst) time of the year to hope for clear or mostly clear skies. The best would be July or August. The worst would January or February,” he said. “We get a decent idea of the expected weather about seven days out. Four days out we get more comfortable talking about the timing of a rain or storm event. But it’s the weather, we are trying to throw a lasso around chaos. It is not rare we forecasters look like fools.”

Viewing the eclipse in Missouri, southern Illinois and Indiana

While many are likely to head as far south as possible, some of the biggest cities in the Midwest are likely to fuel day-of migration to spots in Missouri and Illinois, many of them likely seeing a total eclipse for the second time in a decade. A small zone centered around Carbondale, Illinois, was along the path of totality in 2017, and will be once again this month.

While those in the St. Louis area seeking areas to watch in southeastern Missouri will find historical odds for cloud-free viewing roughly comparable to Arkansas, and those in the Chicago metro area should find their best bet is to head toward the southern part of Illinois.

“If you’re unable to travel (to Texas or Arkansas), then Southern Illinois and Indiana present your best opportunity for a clearer sky, supported by the 43-year average and, of course, weather permitting,” said Albert Ramon, chief meteorologist for CBS Chicago.

solar-eclipse-2024-path-3d-201p-cdt.png

CBS News


There will likely be some who decide that 90% or 95% totality is enough for them. But Ramon warns that those in the Chicago metro area could be at a higher risk to find their view obscured by clouds.

“Based on a comprehensive 43-year average, April 8 typically brings cloud cover chances ranging from 60 to 80% across Chicago and its surrounding suburbs, with similar patterns observed in Indianapolis, where cloud cover hovers between 60 to 70%,” Ramon said.

Viewing the eclipse near the Great Lakes and Pennsylvania

Ramon said another factor that could make viewing along the path of totality something of a challenge in the Midwest is the lingering influence of an El Niño weather pattern.

“Its presence elevates the chances of clouds across the Midwest and Great Lakes regions,” Ramon said. “This year may even be a bit more cloudier than the normal.”

The Great Lakes portion of totality’s path includes large sections of Ohio, including Cleveland, along with the area of Ontario south of Toronto, Niagara Falls, and Erie, Pennsylvania. CBS Pittsburgh meteorologist Ray Petelin said many of these areas are subject to the wildcard that is the Great Lakes.

“They are known for lake-effect snow, but it is the lake-effect clouds that could hide the eclipse. Erie, which is in the path of totality, averages only six clear days during the month of April. Pittsburgh, which has the potential to see around 97% of totality, only averages four clear days in April,” Petelin said.

NASA total eclipse animation
NASA total eclipse animation

NASA


Petelin says that a southerly breeze and warmer-than-average temperatures would go a long way toward helping the Great Lakes region out on April 8. 

“While the historical data suggests the chances for a clear day are low, this winter and early spring have been exceptionally bright and warmer than usual. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that we can get that perfect weather for when it matters most,” Petelin said.

As it stands, the areas near the shores of the Great Lakes historically show a higher probability for clearer skies than areas inland.

Viewing the eclipse in New England

The eclipse will wrap up its march across the U.S. when the path of totality cuts across state lines from New York to Vermont just before 3:30 p.m. ET. By this point in the event, the duration of totality along the central line will have already fallen off from its peak — about 4 minutes, 30 seconds near Nazas, Mexico — to just over 3 minutes, 30 seconds, according to NASA.

solar-eclipse-2024-path-3d-328p-edt.png

CBS News


“The southern edge of the totality line passes right through the towns of Middlebury, Northfield and Barre. You will need to get just north of these areas. Some suggested ‘larger’ towns include Montpelier, St. Johnsbury, Newport and Burlington,” said Terry Eliasen, executive weather producer for CBS Boston.

In New Hampshire, the southern edge of totality will pass just north of the White Mountains. And in Maine, you’ll need to get north of major cities like Portland, Augusta and Bangor. Eliasen said the entirety of Baxter State Park will be in the totality path, including Mount Katahdin.

The bad news: Eliasen said that those in the New England area face possibly the stiffest odds in the country for catching clear skies next Monday, based on historical patterns. The data says you’re more likely to be negatively impacted by clouds pretty much anywhere in these three states than not.

“Frankly, northern New England is probably the worst place (historically speaking) in the path of totality as far as cloud cover goes,” said Eliasen. “Of course, we could get lucky.”

No luck? There’s always the 2045 total solar eclipse

As a last-ditch hope for those who opt to stay put no matter where they’re located, there’s one last meteorological ace-in-the-hole that could offer reprieve, one fueled by the astronomical event itself.

“It’s worth noting that, as totality approaches and sunlight is reduced, temperatures are likely to fall noticeably. Cooler temperatures can stabilize the atmosphere – like when the sun sets after a hot summer day – leading to a decrease in cloud cover,” said Augustyniak. “Still, your best plan is to find an area that has no clouds to begin with.”

And if the clouds end up sullying the view for some this month, another chance comes around in August 2045, when a line of totality will stretch from northern California all the way to Miami Beach. Which, of course, will fall during the height of hurricane season.



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